Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 18, 2021)
Back in 2009, the “GI Joe” toy franchise launched as a live-action film franchise via The Rise of Cobra. With a worldwide gross of $302 million on a budget of $175 million, it likely didn’t turn a profit, but I suppose it sold toys, which seemed to be its main purpose.
In 2011, those involved tried again with Retaliation. With a somewhat cheaper $130 million budget and Dwayne Johnson in tow, it took in $375 million worldwide, much closer to profitability territory than Rise.
Nonetheless, we never got a third GI Joe movie as part of that burgeoning franchise. Perhaps the studio figured that neither entry attained the blockbuster success they expected and bailed.
A decade later, the series semi-returns via 2021’s Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins. With a subtitle that implies further stories of this sort in the future, the flick takes on the most popular of the characters.
A child (Max Archibald) watches his father (Steven Allerick) killed by Mr. Augustine (Samuel Finzi), a thug who uses dice to toy with his victims. Augustine allows the boy’s dad to roll for his fate, but when the dice come up both “ones”, that’s curtains.
As an adult (Henry Golding), the boy adopts the name “Snake Eyes” after this twist of fate. He develops into a skilled fighter, one who joins the Yakuza crew operated Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a man who claims he will find Snake Eyes’ dad’s killer if Snake pulls off a theft for him.
Along the way, Kenta expects Snake to assassinate Tommy (Andrew Koji), also Kenta’s cousin. Snake refuses and finds himself on the outs with Kenta.
Grateful, Tommy takes Snake to Japan with him and helps him train to become part of his warrior clan. Snake deals with this and a lot of plot twists along the way.
When Hasbro developed the 3.75-inch GI Joe action figure line in the early 1980s, they designed Snake Eyes as an all-black toy solely to save money. However, the look caught on and the figure became beloved.
This trivia piece is more interesting than anything you’ll see in the messy and incoherent Snake Eyes.
Look, I don’t expect a whole lot from movies based on action figures, especially when they attempt to revive a franchise that went dormant a decade earlier. Still, you’d think those involved could’ve come up with something more creative and original than this clunker.
For much of its running time, Eyes offers nothing more than a rote samurai-style movie. Snake Eyes goes to Japan to learn the ways of the honorable warrior, a journey that leads him to the usual series of tests with the usual series of stock supporting characters and the usual hint of romance.
Almost none of this seems even vaguely fresh, even when it throws some twists at us. I admit I didn’t see some of these in advance, perhaps because I felt so bored that I failed to pay much attention.
However, I’ll go the “glass half-full” route and give the movie credit for these curveballs anyway. Whatever the reason, I didn’t anticipate these shifts and they allow the story to take on a bit more intrigue than otherwise would occur.
But only a smidgen, as so much of Eyes feels intensely rote, especially in its first half. Along the way, the movie suddenly remembers that it needs to connect to the GI Joe universe, so a few of those other characters emerge from nowhere, a factor that seems both inevitable and surprising.
I refer to this as “inevitable” because Eyes needs to eventually tie the lead to the GI Joe series. I refer to this as “surprising” because I figured Snake Eyes would hop onto the GI Joe bandwagon only at the end and I didn’t anticipate that we’d enter that world halfway through this flick.
Given the tedium of the first hour, I should welcome the introduction of the Joe situations, but it just feels so abrupt and out of nowhere that it becomes a distraction. Add to that the other clumsy ways Eyes tries to tie the lead into the rest of the series and this side of things doesn’t quite work.
Really, I find it tough to locate anything here that does work. For a character who famously never speaks, this Snake Eyes seems like a chatty guy, and he shows enough of a glib, wise-cracking persona that it seems hard to see him as the mute, serious character of the franchise.
Golding just feels wrong in the part. He comes across as too much frat boy and not enough badass warrior.
The movie throws out action scenes willy-nilly and never integrates them well. They suffer from choppy editing that often makes them hard to follow, and they lack much excitement.
It doesn’t help that outside of a bonding ritual between Snake and Tommy, Eyes provides a literally bloodless affair. I get that the studio wanted a “PG-13” affair to allow the kids who buy the toys to see it.
However, Eyes comes with so much sword-based violence that the absence of blood becomes nearly comical. Blades flash and stab but nary a drop of bodily fluid appears, a choice that just seems ludicrous.
Even if you enter Snake Eyes with low expectations, it seems likely to disappoint. A disjointed, pointless and dull attempt at an action flick, it goes nowhere.
Footnote: expect a short tag scene early in the end credits.